In January 2007, the first all-female formed police unit (FFPU) was deployed in UN peacekeeping. The contingent was made up of 105 women peacekeepers recruited from across India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a paramilitary police organization. The first group was deemed a success and a rotation system was put in place so that the contingent is replaced on an annual basis. The first Commander of the FFPU, Seema Dhundia, said of her team, ‘These girls are experienced and have been trained. They have worked in areas of India where there was insurgency. They will do a good job and the Liberian ladies will get motivated and inspired to come forward and join the regular police’. She may well have been right on that front: since the FFPU’s introduction, Liberia has seen a significant increase in women joining the national police, and the mission has reached the highest proportion of women police globally, at 16.67% compared to 8.2% in UN policing overall.
The FFPUs highlight important and interesting questions around what gender mainstreaming is and should look like. Before and since the introductions of the UN’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda, gender mainstreaming has been understood as the UN’s central tool for better including women, and has been espoused and taken on by the majority of the biggest, most powerful international agencies. According to the UN Economic and Social Council, gender mainstreaming is:
the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.
Nevertheless, gender mainstreaming has been criticized for being abstract and therefore understood differently within and between governments and NGOs. In particular, women have been asked to adapt to fit into existing institutions and norms in gender-integrated programming that was created with men’s needs, abilities, and interests at the forefront. The
FFPUs challenge the business as usual model of gender mainstreaming through offering a new venue for women’s involvement. Research shows that presently mixed-gender units may pose significant barriers to increased participation by women. Likewise, FFPUs may provide an alternative or additional option for women wishing to pursue roles as peacekeepers yet not wishing to take on many burdens women in male-majority units have reportedly faced.
While the approach of creating all-female units is not perfect, nor does it yet meet the UN’s stated end-goal of women and men being able to work together side by side to achieve peace and security, it is a timely measure that pragmatically seeks to pursue long-term goals while working with available options in the short-term. In doing so, FFPUs may enhance security for women and men here and now. In fact it seems they have. As the former formed police unit coordinator for Liberia said of them,
They were proven in a riot in a deadly situation. They don’t flinch. That caught the eye of President Sirleaf. When her mansion caught on fire they stepped up to provide security in the adjacent building. She was so happy they were female, professional, and doing, what did she say? ‘A bang up job!’
Lesley Pruitt, The University of Melbourne